Penn Hills goes back to basics after early season losses

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Sunday, September 27, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Penn Hills football captured the WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A championships two seasons ago and found itself back in the WPIAL playoffs last season. This season got off to a bumpy start as the Indians opened with two nonconference losses.

Even after being outscored 53-13 in the first two games, coach Jon LeDonne believes the losses were due to correctable mistakes in all phases of the game.

“We made a ton of mental mistakes that were very costly for us the last two weeks,” he said. “It’s not about what the other team did but what we didn’t do. We’re going to get back to the basics and focus on what we do.”

The Indians opened the season with a 27-6 loss to North Allegheny where freshman quarterback Julian Dugger threw for 104 yards and connected with his brother, Jaden, on a 22-yard touchdown pass to take an early lead in the game.

Penn Hills lost to Woodland Hills, 26-7, in the second week. Dugger threw for 82 yards and two interceptions. Senior running back Derrick Topeck scored on a 2-yard run to give the Indians a lead in the second quarter.

In both losses, the Indians gave up early leads and didn’t score after their initial touchdown drives.

“We just need to play assignment football,” LeDonne said. “It seems like every play there were one or two people doing something different that didn’t fit in with the schemes and what they should’ve been doing.

“Sometimes, it wasn’t very noticeable, and some other times, it was very costly. We talked about the way we start as simple as our stance, alignment and assignment. Hopefully, we will get those things going.”

LeDonne and his coaching staff will look to simplify their schemes on both sides of the ball in hopes of allowing the Indians to play faster.

One player who might benefit from the simplification of the game plan is Julian Dugger. Starting at quarterback as a freshman has its challenges.

“He is definitely athletic and extends plays based on his athleticism, but you could tell he’s a rookie when it comes to varsity competition,” LeDonne said. “The game is happening a lot faster for him right now. We’re going to try everything we can to help him out by making easy reads to slow the game down for him.

“We need to do our job up front to protect him. It seems like there are always breakdowns with our protection that makes him scramble. We are going to try to make the reads for him, get the ball out quicker and protect him a little better.”

With the nonconference schedule in the rearview, the Indians were set to kick off Northeast Conference play at home against Kiski Area on Sept. 25.

Following the Kiski Area matchup, Indians will have back-to-back difficult games at home against Pine-Richland on Oct. 2 and at North Hills on Oct. 8. Penn Hills’ schedule concludes with a matchup at home against Fox Chapel on Oct. 16 and at Shaler on Oct. 23.

“While it would be nice to win the first two games, at the end of day, they are nothing more than bragging rights,” LeDonne said. “They don’t impact conference play or playoffs.

“What we need to do is focus on us. We are going full speed in practice to condition their bodies and get themselves mentally prepared as well with a lot of film sessions.”

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